“In middle age the tide turns and the genes drag one back to the beaches of one’s youth.” Rupert Everett, Vanished Years
Rupert Everett’s memoirs (Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins and Vanished Years) are witty, gossipy, explicit, moving and occasionally bitchy or bitter. Everett’s relationship with worldly success is ambivalent, and that’s one of the things that makes him an interesting storyteller. He’s ambitious enough to get past Hollywood’s velvet rope and work and party alongside stars, directors and producers, but detached and critical enough to be a good observer and writer. Vanished Years is a good book in its own right rather than a piece of celebrity merchandise, and I suspect even readers who are unfamiliar with Rupert Everett’s acting work will enjoy it.
Most celebrity memoirs are execrable, consisting of self-congratulatory anecdotes in which the author spends most of the time kissing the mirror. Alternatively, a ghost writer plods dutifully and unimaginatively through everything the celebrity has ever done (in chronological order), sugar-coating it all in unqualified praise and boring the pants off the reader. Mercifully, Rupert Everett knows how to weave the incidents of his life together, create suspense, set the scene and elicit laughter and tears. He pens lovely little portraits of the famous (for example, Sir Derek Jacobi and Harvey Weinstein) and the not-so-famous (his grandmother and parents). He writes about success but also failure. In short, Rupert Everett is a writer who also happens to be an actor, not a celebrity who happens to have a word processor.
Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins was largely about youth, success, stars and celebrities (Sir Ian McKellen, Beatrice Dalle, Madonna, Roddy McDowall, Paula Yates, Colin Firth, Susan Sarandon, Bob Dylan, Julia Roberts, Donatella Versace, Sharon Stone et al). Vanished Years is less about making films and dallying with their stars and more about confronting middle age and mortality (Everett’s own and that of his friends and family). It is, in a way, Everett’s elegy to his departed loved ones and his career in front of the camera. Everett exposes the foibles of others, but also his own delusions and shortcomings (sometimes he behaves very badly indeed). As the title suggests, Vanished Years is a wistful book, but it’s also funny (“Marc, Benny and I are a strange trio, a Vaudeville act from the old days. I am tall and gaunt and terribly British in the middle. They are my Black and White Minstrels, on either side. Together we are the three minorities of the apocalypse: black, Jewish and gay”). The only things missing from Vanished Years are an index and more photos of Rupert with his family and friends—not necessarily the celebrity ones—because he makes you care for them, too.
Rupert Everett’s existence is peripatetic. He flashes back and forward through his life, taking us to a run-down park in Jamaica, a Broadway theatre, the killing fields of Cambodia, gay bars in Miami and Berlin, the marshes of Norfolk, the British Embassy in Washington, the beaches of St Tropez, a mental institution in Victoria, a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the set of a celebrity edition of The Apprentice, an AIDS clinic in St Petersburg. It’s a world of extremes, from glitzy events to third-world orphanages, and Everett always sets the scene.
“Inside, above the crowd, a towering beauty with a long neck and short honey-coloured curls makes her way across the room towards the garden. A path is cleared for her as people recoil and whisper as she moves by. She throbs with an invisible energy, an alien in an empire-line dress. She stops only once – to talk to an ancient man in a chair. He is Alan Greenspan, the keeper of the American purse, and he rises like a failing erection, gloating as she stoops to hug him, his glasses squashed comically against her collarbone. She holds him to her, and then thrusts him away, grasping his shoulders in her manicured hands as if he is a favourite shih tzu scooped up from its basket.” Rupert Everett, Vanished Years
Throughout his journeys, Rupert Everett comes across as a world-weary and vulnerable person who always feels like an outsider, only comfortable with people on the outer fringes of society, which seems strange to a plebeian like me who will never walk the red carpet into Everett’s world of film premieres, famous friends, modelling and dinner at the Ritz. I should be less surprised, though, as Everett reveals the fickle, hypocritical and desperate side of show biz and the long blank stretches in between popularity and excess. He veers between extremes, hobnobbing with the stars while wishing they were greater than their stage-managed personas, then running away to live in dark dives with refugees and bohemian queens. There’s an interesting interview with Rupert Everett in The Guardian that touches on this theme of the outsider self-sabotaging.
Sadly, in Vanished Years Everett talks about his film career in the past tense, apparently believing that homophobia, one disastrous film and one doomed TV pilot have forever barred him from Hollywood. Everett’s brutally frank and indiscreet about some big shots, evidently believing that it doesn’t matter if he makes enemies now, as he’ll never re-join the party. I hope it’s not true, as I’d like to see Rupert Everett in many more films and hope that the theatrical production of The Judas Kiss in which he’s starring will come to Australia. I especially loved Rupert Everett in Oliver Parker’s An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest; his delivery of Wilde’s lines is the “personification of absolute perfection”.
I wondered why Vanished Years doesn’t mention Rupert’s project to direct and star in a film about Oscar Wilde’s final years in exile, to be called The Happy Prince (or possibly Sebastian Melmoth); I hope it takes wing. Given his current mood, Rupert would know exactly how to play Wilde as he drifted across Europe, telling stories about his glory days in exchange for a meal and shunned by the very people who once demanded his time or basked in his reflected glory. The prospect of seeing other great actors such as Tom Wilkinson (Tuppy in A Good Woman, Dr Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest, the Marquess of Queensberry in Wilde) and Colin Firth (John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray) collaborating with Everett in a Wilde biopic has me all a-tingle with anticipation.
Here’s hoping the next instalment in Rupert Everett’s memoirs will be called An Ideal Director: on the set with Sebastian Melmoth.